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NEWS

French Open Week 1 Report: Stephens brings A-game to a Slam, again

June 2, 2014 09:41 AM
Bob (R) and Mike Bryan are still alive in the men's doubles draw at the French Open.

By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com

Ask a local tennis fan in Paris and he or she would say that Sloane Stephens has a certain “je ne sais quoi” when it comes to the stellar performances she delivers at Grand Slam events. She has had an up-and-down season since reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open in January, but for Stephens, any past results seem to fade away once a vision of seven wins and a field of 128 players comes into focus.

The 2014 French Open, which now is as wide open as any second week in recent memory, could be hers. The 21-year-old Floridian reached the fourth round of a major for the sixth consecutive time, the longest active streak among WTA players. The notion of players being hard-court or clay-court specialists has long been a way to categorize players; it’s unique, perhaps unheard of, to consider a “Slam specialist.” Yet Stephens embraces her emerging reputation.

“I think it’s really cool,” Stephens said after her most recent match, a 6-3, 6-4 win over Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova. “If I knew [what led to the success], I would capitalize on it; I would do it every week. I guess it’s all just a learning experience.”

Stephens has yet to drop a set during her latest run, with wins over China’s Shuai Peng, Slovenia’s Polona Hercog and No. 22 seed Makarova. She’ll next face fourth-ranked Simona Halep in the round of 16; with top-seeded Serena Williams, No. 2 Li Na and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska all eliminated after three rounds, the fast-rising 22-year-old from Romania inherits the role of favorite.

“It’s a surprise that the first three seeds lost and not easy to be the highest one left, or to play Sloane,” said Halep. “I played her in Australia a couple of seasons ago and she beat me very fast. Now I think I’m more prepared than I was then. I have confidence I can take revenge.”

With John Isner losing his fourth-round matchup against fifth-ranked Tomas Berdych, Stephens is the only American left in either singles field.

Here are the other headlines from Roland Garros during week one:

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Serena stopped: Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, 20, garnered notice in the second round by defeating Williams, 6-2, 6-2, knocking out the defending French Open champion and world No. 1. Williams, 32, endured her most lopsided loss at a Grand Slam in 54 events played, winning just four games.

Williams dropped just a single set in seven matches en route to a Roland Garros title in 2013, but this year's performance for the 17-time major champion harkened back to her early exit in 2012 in Paris, when she lost her opening-round match against France's Virginie Razzano. Williams followed that with victories at the Olympics, Wimbledon and the US Open.

"It was one of those days – you can't be on every day, and, gosh, I hate to be off during a Grand Slam," said Williams in her post-match press conference. "It happens, you know. It's not the end of the world. It is what it is."

Nearing Cloud 99: Bob and Mike Bryan are doing their best to brush aside any recent disappointment on clay as they’ve reached the French Open men’s quarterfinals, in this their 16th appearance as a team in men’s doubles.

The No. 1 tandem lost their first bid for their 99th career doubles title together when they lost to Canada’s Daniel Nestor and Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic – a fairly decorated duo in their own right, with three Grand Slam titles – in both the Madrid final and Rome semifinals last month, thereby negating any chance that Roland Garros would be the site for a milestone 100th tournament victory as a team.

It’s been easy going thus far for the 36-year-old California twins, winning all six sets played thus far. Should they beat Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in their next match, third-ranked Nestor and Zimonjic – and an opportunity to earn a bit of revenge – would likely be there for them in the semis.

Butorac back again: Fresh off his first major doubles final back in January, Minnesotan Eric Butorac is now making another run at the French.

Butorac partnered with South Africa’s Raven Klaasen to beat the Bryans en route to the Australian Open men’s doubles championship match. The two were defeated in the second round in the Roland Garros men’s draw, yet Butorac played on and is now a few wins away from a mixed doubles title, teaming with Hungarian Timea Babos.

Babos just turned 21 in May, while Butorac is 33. The unlikely couple gets France’s Alize Cornet and Jonathan Eysseric in the quarterfinals.

Tiafoe in the win column: Francis Tiafoe came through with a strong 6-4, 7-5 win over France’s Clement Larriere in the opening round of the boys’ singles draw in his first Grand Slam appearance as a No. 1 seed.

For the 2013 Orange Bowl and 2014 Easter Bowl champion, it was his first main draw singles win at a major. The 16-year-old from College Park, Md., is currently the No. 2 junior in the world.

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For more coverage of Americans at the 2014 French Open, please also read:
 
Isner serves his way into second week of French Open
Americans roll into third round in Paris
Townsend records breakthrough win in Paris

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